"Things just can't go on being every which way, can they?"

In many ways the title Boardwalk Empire has lost all meaning. The HBO drama doesn't seem all that concerned with who's in control of the the illegal booze business in Atlantic City as much as painting a broad picture of bootlegging history on the entire East Coast. After the vignette-based, location-hopping "You'd Be Surprised," "Bootleg Empires" might be a better name for the series. Not that the show didn't often extend itself outside Atlantic City throughout the first two seasons but it was mostly in service of the conflict at the heart of the drama, namely, who should rule the Boardwalk Empire. Sure, every action that Nucky takes still puts his place on top in jeopardy but these dangerous trappings (whether the law or outside mobsters) all existed on top of the two-season-long arc that eventually pitted the protege against his pseudo-father. There are still great scenes littered throughout every episode of Season 3 so far, and "Ging Gang Goolie" is no exception, but without that central bond the series feels (to the) lost.

"One more question. Is it true Rosetti was wearing a dog collar?"

Gyp Rosetti is supposed to be the primary replacement for Jimmy, filling the void left by the main protagonist (or antagonist depending on whose side you were on), but it only took one kid with a good tip and a handgun to make him run back to NYC. I know it's not for good, the unleashed dog will certainly reenter the frey and possibly create a full on war between Masseria and Rothstein but all we can do at the moment is peculate because the major player was absent from the entire episode. Not just him, the entire New York conflict was missing with almost no mention of the what is surely one of the main threads of the season. We do get one scene of Eli, who seems to have reasserted his authority over Mickey (whether officially or not), acting tough for the new sheriff of Tabor Heights who's free to talk, not to mention reopen the routes, now that Gyp has flew the coop. And that's it for street side of the bootlegging business for the week. New York, however, isn't completely missing from the episode, just most of the familiar faces and volatile conflicts.

"I finally got you convicted."

Nucky arrives to the usual drop on the right date but instead of finding Means' empty fish-bowl, he finds, well, a fish. And George Remus. Nucky suspects that something is amiss (obviously) and assumes that Daugherty might try to use him to get out of his legal pinch. We also see that Remus is closer to the Attorney General since he's able to produce the phone number. Too bad the maid manages to kick the two gangsters out of the flophouse despite Remus' Cincinnati charms. The action cuts to the Nation's capitol for a Boy Scouts of America meeting where Daugherty's right hand Jess Smith starts sobbing like a baby as the troop leader talks about moral fibre. I wonder if he's a weak link in the illegal operation's chain? Nuck bursts in on the politicos conspiring against him and despite all the threats he can muster, Daugherty doesn't flinch. Not only is the Attorney General going after him, but he instructs a hiding Means to teach Nucky a lesson in civics. A lesson that starts with a comfy prison cell and ends up working against those who put him there.

And not just because he meets big time bootlegger Alby Gold. Okay, so the dude got caught with 5 cases, not exactly Roland Smith but while Nucky's in line with the small fries he does happen to cross someone we haven't seen in a while. It would be an understatement to say that the return of Julianne Nicholson's Esther Randolph was the highlight of "Ging Gang Goolie," saving grace might be more like it. The former Assistant DA is now working a small courtroom where offenders are ushered through as fast as possible with five dollar fines and the Judge doesn't mind taking shots at an attorney desperately trying to put a big fish behind bars. Nucky's 'Jesus Christ' after hearing her courtroom spiel was a great moment but surely bested by his request for change. Nucky was also right that the diner date between him and Esther was indeed interesting and probably my favorite moment of the entire episode. A superbly written exchange, acted with extreme charisma. And what do you know, when he's stuck listening to Billie yammer about her show later, he finds out that he's got another unlikely and valuable friend in Gaston Means.

"Dreams are where we should live but we have to live in life."

Nobody is missing Jimmy quite like Gillian and we get to experience her crazy for a large part of "Ging Gang Goolie." There's something extra unnerving about her actions when you consider how a popular Boy Scouts of America song is the source of the episode's title. Oh, I forgot that we do get to see one of the New York boys as Lucky makes an appearance to bang one of the girls at his and Gillians, sorry Jimmy's place and make the madam jealous. I also find it hard to believe that Lucky, in his line of work, would think there's even a chance that Jimmy's still alive. Maybe him bringing Jimmy up is his way of forcing Gillian to finally deal with his disappearance and it almost works as she spends time taking down all his photos. The healthy step in the grieving process is soon followed by a not so healthy step, spotting and seducing a Jimmy-alike. I'd say Gillian had lost is, especially with all the dream world-real world bullshit, but that would mean she had it together at some point. The sex scene is incredibly awkward and tell me you didn't cringe at her new nickname for Plain-Roger.
"Where's my bottle? What's all this bullshit about alcohol? A man is willing to lay his life down for his county, you best let that man have a goddamn drink!"

It was obviously great to have Richard back in the story after what seemed like a extended absence, however, his story wasn't particularly engrossing and no where near the same caliber as his soul searching journey into the woods for Season 2's "Gimcrack & Bunkum." Richard, since he has little to do with the rest of the ensemble except Jimmy's son (also MIA), is spending his time in the Legion hall and watches a drunk old Vet named Paul Sagorski mouth off at the rest of the guys or, as he would say, fucking saps. This leads to a bare-knuckle boxing match the following night where he gets worked resulting in Richard helping him off the mat and to the side of the road to meet his ride. And to toss back a few drinks. His lovely daughter Julia, who doesn't seem to mind the masked man, picks him up and they leave before Richard finds a medal left behind. Costanza! Sorry. Mr. Harrow (she remembers) returns the medal and learns why the old man fights before being reminded of his own loved ones. At the end of the episdoe, he's pouring over photos of him and his sister, perhaps planning a visit?

"He tries anything. I'll stick him in the face with this and I'll kill him."

Margaret anchors the episode and while I enjoy her character, especially the rising conflict with Owen, not a lot happened in the significant amount of screen time devoted to her thread. "Ging Gang Goolie" opened with Teddy alerting his mom that the greenhouse was on fire which quickly brings Owen (as well as the neighbor Ms. Predock) to investigate. No professional foul play to worry about, Gyp would certainly just kill them and forget the fire nonsense but Owen is able to get a few facts from Teddy after an interrogation. A gypsy (very close to Gyp no?) man did it. Margaret and Owen share a moment flirting about Irish goblins before deciding it was probably Teddy that started the fire. No Billy Joel jokes. She can't get the truth out of her son but he does share his concerns over the lack of a man in the house. Does that mean his 'It's not going to happen again' means he's guilty or on the job as the new man of the house? The next scene, where we find Margaret reading about Margaret Sanger, seems to suggest the former as Ms. Predock found the boy in her garage playing with matches and fuel. Caught red-handed! I also like how polite the neighbor was even though Teddy could have burned her house down with her inside. She must really want to bone Owen.

Speaking of Owen, while the kids and Margaret practice State capitols, he pops by with news that the vagrant problem has been taken care of and there's no longer anything to worry about. Vagrant? So, Teddy didn't do it? Or Owen just caught some bum and killed him? Suddenly it seems Teddy is playing protector but that means he would have been rounding up the dangerous supplies next door to hide from the pyromaniac gypsy. Who was once a rabbit. That last part makes it hard to buy his story one hundred percent but I'm not telling him that, he'd stab me in the face! When all seems safe, and Margaret has sent home the hired goons, she wakes to a noise in the night and heads shotgun in hand (ignoring the out of place cut to Richard) to the greenhouse only to find Owen playing protector at Mr. Thompson's request. Then, not at Nucky's request, they succumb to temptation a second time. About time! And I have a feeling, since the season has spent so much time on women's health (plus this episode's allusion to Sanger) not to mention how Margaret always used to 'wipe' after sex with Nucky, that she's now preggers with Owen's baby. Just a guess.

"Because he was a king."

If it wasn't clear before "Ging Gang Goolie" that Boardwalk Empire, not just the characters but the series itself, was missing Michael Pitt's killed-off co-lead it should be crystal now. If his loss was going to weigh so heavily on the third season's storyline, I don't understand the reasoning behind setting the events over a year later. It might as well be the next month the way the series continues to cling to his character and, like the others inside the story, cannot seem to move on to the next phase. The series is already struggling without Jimmy to simply unify the various story lines and settings, something noted in the recap for last week's disconnected "You'd Be Surprised," but "Ging Gang Goolie" also highlights how big of a dramatic vacuum was created by his loss. And, worst of all, it doesn't seem anywhere close to being filled, especially not by the whole Gyp Rosetti conflict. Even the inevitable war, no matter how bloody, won't have anywhere near the impact of Nuck and Jimmy's final meeting in the rain. I hate to say it (because I love Buscemi) but did they kill the wrong man? Historical accuracy be dammed! Let's hope Owen, Richard and Eli form their own gang. Chalky and Dunn too.

Boardwalk Empire returns with Episode 7, "Sunday Best," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, it stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza and Michael Stuhlbarg.

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